Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Stories Our Bodies Tell

My left ankle makes disgusting grinding noises when I roll it in a certain direction. There's a sizable scar on my right elbow, and another- the shape of a crescent moon- that resides on my left shin. My toes are substantially mangled, my knuckles knobby and many of my fingers crooked. Half of one of my front teeth is fake.

Each of these flaws tell a story. I sprained my left ankle at field hockey camp in high school and prematurely began playing on it, too brazen and impatient to wait out the healing process. Just before falling overboard, I hooked my right arm around a cable on a sailboat in attempts to catch myself. Instead, some wayward wires from the cable sliced into my arm . . . I still fell overboard, in all my clothes, shoes too. The scar on my left shin happened while hiking in upstate New York; it's the most recent mark and occurred among a group of women friends that range in age from 28 to 60. We talked about almost everything on that hike, which is probably why I missed the slender yet sharp tree stump that caught me in the leg. My toes still bear the marks of a ballerina, even though I haven't worn pointe shoes in more than a decade. When I was 7, I slipped, chasing down a basketball while wearing my best shoes; I literally bit a gymnasium floor. One of my first adult teeth chipped on contact. For the five years that followed, until it was fixed, I only half smiled in every school picture.

These marks will never go away. Some might be called ugly. Some are skin deep, some hidden below the surface. All of them are mine.

In a way, I am proud of these imperfections. They tell stories of adolescent stubbornness, childhood folly, and a life lived in motion.

It's easy to get wrapped up in society's tendency to focus on what our bodies don't do or don't look like and what we can do to fix, plump, polish, or shrink whatever that is. Instead, take a moment to recount some of your favorite flaws, beautiful battle wounds, and overlooked physical triumphs. Rather than bemoan the way your banged up knees look in a mini skirt, relish the fact that your legs kept you active enough that you could wipe out with aplomb. Rethink your back pain, so that it reveals gratitude for surviving that fender bender so many years ago. Curse a few extra pounds from time to time, or see them as the natural function of a healthy body that's enjoying good food.

Maybe it's because I just returned home from my swish health club with all its mirrored walls and magazine racks full of tabloids (which- don't get me wrong- I digest with voyeuristic delight on occasion, as well), but I feel certain that we, collectively, need to see our bodies (and the bodies of others) as more than imperfect play things waging war against gravity and time. Rather, let's attempt to make peace with the vessel that carries out our dreams, ideals, and good deeds.

Today, notice when you judge your body or someone else's. Catch the snarky thoughts and snide remarks, and substitute them with an inward expression of gratitude for your physical being.

Feel free to report back with your small triumphs. Ditching the negative self-talk today? Happy you decided not to straighten that snaggletooth? Embracing your curves? Boldly going bald? You deserve to sing your own praises and, by doing so, will inevitably empower others to do the same.


Anonymous said...

my friend who will go nameless as well, has a patch of grey hair, caused by stress from his father's early death due to lung cancer. he recently dyed it, but i felt he should've left it as a reminder of his father, who raised him alone.

Anonymous said...

I never thought about the scars on my body in that way. ~Thanks